Hot Springs Trailhead Latest
The tumultuous saga between four Montecito homeowners and the County of Santa Barbara’s Public Works Department continues, as the California 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the County at an appeal hearing in mid-July. The ruling stated that the County could legally remove unpermitted encroachments in the public right-of-way along East Mountain Drive, without triggering CEQA review.
The issue of the Hot Springs Trailhead parking situation began over two years ago, when several residents along East Mountain Drive installed landscaping, boulders, rocks, bushes, and trees in front of their properties in the public right-of-way, as a way to discourage or prevent members of the public from parking and walking to the nearby trailhead. During the pandemic, trail use skyrocketed, and members of the public continued to park on the narrow road despite the encroachments, creating a safety hazard for pedestrians, vehicles, and emergency access vehicles.
The County’s Transportation Division issued notices to homeowners to remove the unpermitted encroachments within 60 days in an effort to restore the right-of-way and add parking to the area. The parking restoration project was considered exempt from CEQA because it involved the restoration of the existing roadway back to its original state. Four Montecito homeowners that live nearby but are not owners who received the notices, filed a petition to prevent the removal of the encroachments. They cited that the removal would create additional parking spaces, which would lead to more hikers using the trail and would make it more difficult to evacuate the neighborhood in the event of a wildfire, making it necessary for environmental review.
Two lower-level trial courts agreed with the four homeowners, preventing the County from exercising control over the public right-of-way pending completion of CEQA review. But the most recent, higher court ruling sided with the County, with the judges’ opinion on the case stating: “Public parking has always been allowed on East Mountain Drive. Respondents and other property owners thwarted access to it by installing unpermitted encroachments. Removing the encroachments does not ‘increase’ or add new parking; it restores access to parking spaces that have always existed.”
It goes on to read: “We conclude the trial court erred as a matter of law. The current project as defined by the Road Commissioner has independent utility, regardless of whether notices are sent to other property owners in the future or other, as yet unannounced actions are taken to increase access to or use of the Hot Springs Trail. Removing encroachments brings the properties into compliance with the Streets and Highways Code and county ordinances and engineering standards by restoring the ‘clear zone’ in front of these properties. It also recovers space for public parking. These results occur regardless of whether other homeowners are later notified to remove encroachments or other steps are taken to increase hikers’ access to Hot Springs Trail.”
The matter could be escalated to California’s Superior Court.